Sunday, March 28, 2010
"The Last Town on Earth" by Thomas Mullen
Musings: I received this book free at the NCTE conference and was drawn to its post-apocalyptic sounding title. Although I enjoyed the book, I think the title is misleading, as there's no indication or fear of Commonwealth's permanent isolation.
Last Town effectively weaves together various historical events: the 1918 flu pandemic, World War I, and labor strikes. It was interesting to see how the politics of each intersected within the characters to create conflict. And, of course, many of these same conflicts are still in play today, from the hysteria over H1N1 to the debates over the purpose and righteousness of the war in Iraq.
Philip is the protagonist of the novel, and he has a lot of backstory. I felt, at times, that there were too many pieces of his character that needed weaving together. Nonetheless, he's someone to cheer for as he grapples with everything from decisions of morality to decisions of romance.
Graham, Philip's foil, has a similarly weighty history, but he's also less likeable and relateable. Because of this, although each man represents different sides of difficult issues--family versus community, morality versus practicality--it's significantly easier to empathize with Philip.
Things go from bad to worse quickly in the novel, and I found the pervasive sadness difficult. Even small moments of joy are quickly destroyed. I kept holding out for an ending that would restore hope, but Mullen seemed insistent on ensuring that would be impossible.
I read little historical fiction and probably wouldn't have tried this except for the misleading title, but I think the issues it raises are so contemporary and the characters so fully fleshed that it's worth the read.
***This book qualifies for the TwentyTen Reading Challenge (T.B.R. category).